In early 2007 I met Hamish Edwards – a tall, smart talking, overly enthusiastic Kiwi not fitting in at an Accounting Software event in London. At that point I didn’t know he’d be hiring me as the 2nd Xero UK team member. Hamish told me about the ‘new cloud accounting software’ he’d co-founded with a chap called Rod in New Zealand. He was in the UK doing market research. Obviously I’d never heard of it, ‘with an X’ or otherwise, but he was pretty engaging so I listened in…
My software history
After an early start in software with a university holiday job, I made my way through a late 90s internet startup (I am that cliche), then a french software company before entering the ranks of Accounting Software in 2001, as Marketing Manager at Exchequer Software. Here, for the first time, I had to wear a suit to work ‘because of the accountants’!
This is when I first met Gary Turner, who back then was actually a competitor as MD of Pegasus. After we grew Exchequer fast it was sold to Iris, and I no longer had the same free rein with Marketing and left to start my own consultancy.
It only took a fish and chip lunch where I live at the seaside with Hamish to join the Xero UK ranks… I travelled to London most weeks to the tiny and ‘not glamorous’ office in Vauxhall that was clearly designed for 2 people, not the 5 we became in the first year. Tapping away on the train on my Blackberry doing important marketing things and excited to have a Mac again.
There were no pool tables, fancy coffee machines and other startup cliches. Just me and 4 blokes in a room with not enough desks and no aircon. Like I said, not glamorous!
But at least I was back in the startup uniform of jeans ‘with a jacket for a meeting’. And quite often my pyjamas for those 10pm conference calls to New Zealand.
The first Xero office had a high point though – ironically in the basement. Hidden downstairs was an amazing Italian restaurant and a lot of the early days were fuelled by giant calzones for lunch. I still pass the office building on my way into Waterloo now and it makes me smile.
Xero’s UK startup agenda
First on the agenda was finding early adopter UK Accountants who weren’t scared of ‘the cloud’. Even then we knew it would be partners that made the difference. But it wasn’t easy. Luckily there were a few forward thinking accountants who weren’t wedded to their floppy disks of Sage data kept in desk drawers.
If it took a visit or five to an accountancy practice to get them on board as a partner, we did it. Startups are always about sales & we were no exception. It was one Xero subscription and partner at a time in those days.
One of my favourite memories was seeing the penny drop with early adopter accountancy practices that they could now sell monthly service packages. The shift from ‘historical’ traditional billing, to ‘real time’ working and charging monthly, is the norm now but was very ‘out there’ 10 years ago.
There were endless visits to banks too, and I’m sure Hamish met with almost every employee of HSBC in his relentless quest for bank feeds. You have him to thank for that time saving function today. Because of course once one bank agreed, the others followed…
The first UK Xero user?
I’ve been using Xero since it was in beta in the UK, and knew we were onto something as my dad ‘got it’ straight away.
Being what I’d politely label an ‘old school accountant’, my dad quickly became a Xero fan. Although Nathan Travers, one of the other original Xero UK-ers, who provided support and all things ‘technical’, remembers my dad ‘helping’ endlessly to make the software better i.e. he sent loads of support requests. All good for product development I say!
What happened next
I left working with Xero the end of 2008.
After adding another small person to my collection, I started working with small business owners instead of software companies on their marketing – people like me who are selling know-how and services.
Working with small business owners, and being one myself, I always have half an eye out for new software. So when I met Gareth, my co-founder at Connectably, at a Mastermind day, and he explained what he was planning, it was like meeting Hamish all over again (albeit Gareth’s a Yorkshireman and even taller).
Back with Xero
Gareth’s enthusiasm, experience and focused intent that Connectably was going to be something special in software, plus that it was a Xero add-on, meant I couldn’t help myself.
I’m definitely not a top level geek but I know enough to know that someone somewhere is probably solving a problem you have right now with great software. And for me, and all the small service business owners I know, I believe the answer to those problems is Connectably.
And so I’m back in the Xero world, this time as an add-on partner, and bringing everything I’ve done since with me. Watch out marketplace, I’m back, and this time I’m staying.